Your definition of respect will vary greatly depending on who you learned if from. To be more accurate, I should say, your application of respect will vary depending on who your teacher was. The prevalent belief is that respect is only given when it is earned or deserved. “You want my respect,” shouts the disenchanted protester, “then show respect to me first!” It’s hard to argue with that level of reactionary thinking – but – is respect a gift given in return for a gift received? Is our character driven by what others do to us? Do we display kindness, love, and respect as a “reaction” or because it’s who we are? Are character traits defined by what others do first?
I was at draft age in the late sixties, during the Vietnam war but my lottery number/DOB was 344. I was in ministry training, but if I’d been called I would have gladly served. My brother served two tours of duty over there and came home with malaria, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a heavy dose of Agent Orange that killed him eight years later. I was never a fan of the war, but I was a fan of our service men and women who did their duty in spite of the political and social problems that plagued nearly all of that conflict. I understood the rationale of the protesters, but I never understood why that was reason to disrespect our soldiers or burn our flag. That drove me away from any desire to want to join in and support the protests on any level.
The problem with putting conditions on respect is that it also drive disrespect. The other person/people determine which you give, because after all, returning evil for evil is what mankind does.
It’s not what Jesus does. It’s not what his followers do. For several years, in my preaching, teaching, and discussions, I have shared what I believe is a godly and reasonable truism. You can’t demand respect by showing disrespect. I would add to that, you can’t seek support or unity by being divisive. I think it’s fascinating that one of Jesus’ first challenging and controversial lessons was the lesson of non-retaliation and rising to a higher call in life. He told an enslaved people to deal with their Roman bondage by giving double what they demanded, walking two miles instead of one, and turning the other cheek when slapped.
As I thought about the Jesus challenges and reflected on how amazingly perceptive my “You can’t demand respect by showing disrespect” was, is suddenly dawned on me – “DUH” (that’s deep theology for you-aint-so-smart!), isn’t that exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Treat others they way you’d like to be treated”?
It’s time to brush off and polish up the Golden Rule and let Jesus define how and to whom we give respect.